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First look at how Rays may address offseason changes

Tales | A key will be determining what, and how many, changes to make to boost the offense versus banking on returning players. Plus, rumblings.
Could Michael Brantley, most recently with Houston, be the veteran left-handed hitter the Rays use to balance their lineup?
Could Michael Brantley, most recently with Houston, be the veteran left-handed hitter the Rays use to balance their lineup? [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Nov. 4|Updated Nov. 4

ST. PETERSBURG — The end of the World Series brings the official start of the offseason.

Players become free agents the day after the final out and, depending on whether the series ends in six or seven games, can start signing elsewhere Thursday or Friday. Along the way, option decisions have to be made, players on the 60-day injured list must be reinstated to 40-man rosters (with others dropped to make room) and trade discussions start, especially with the general managers meeting this week in Las Vegas.

So, what will the Rays do?

Initially, probably not much. They could be proactive in trading one of their top four lefty relievers (Jalen Beeks, Garrett Cleavinger, Colin Poche, Brooks Raley) and/or make a lesser deal to either create or preserve 40-man roster space (Nick Anderson? Ryan Thompson? A prospect who otherwise would have to be added?)

Their primary goal is to improve an offense that scored just 666 runs after 857 in 2021. But they will balance the expected improvement from their players, especially the lefty/switch hitters who were injured (Wander Franco, Brandon Lowe) or struggled (Vidal Brujan, Josh Lowe, Taylor Walls), versus available additions, and the acquisition costs.

Adding to the conundrum is the likely trade interest in Randy Arozarena and/or Yandy Diaz, two of their most productive hitters but also among their higher paid on a roster that is right-handed-heavy.

Pitching-wise, they seem to be overly deep in relievers and in need of a veteran starter (Carlos Carrasco? Michael Wacha?) to join the foursome of Shane McClanahan (sure to draw trade inquiries); Tyler Glasnow (who will have a limited workload); Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen; and provide proven depth, a key if/when one is sidelined.

“Scoring almost 200 runs more the year before leads to some questions about where this is likely to land next year,” baseball operations president Erik Neander said. “I think to sit here and to suggest that we’re good as is and we’ll just plan for better from our group next year would be unwise. Looking for ways to better balance our position player group is something that we’ll spend a lot of time thinking about and exploring our options.

“The bottom line is our run prevention was again really strong this year, and we could make life a lot easier on ourselves if we could find a way to improve our run scoring. Some of that might just be through the development of young players that we have and players getting healthy, like a Brandon Lowe. But we need to make sure that we’re open-minded to other avenues that could potentially help this group next year.”

The quickest fix would seem to be adding a veteran left-handed hitter at designated hitter, first base or the outfield. The trade market could yield a surprising option, but free-agent possibilities below the top tier likely will be players coming off injuries or down years with some risk involved, such as Michael Brantley, Michael Conforto, Joey Gallo or even Cody Bellinger (if he is non-tendered) or switch-hitter Josh Bell.

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As the Rays continue their extensive prep work waiting for the free-agent and trade markets to develop, they have some work to do.

Procedurally this week, they have to decline Kevin Kiermaier’s $13 million option (paying him a $2.5 million buyout), letting him become a free agent, along with starter Corey Kluber, outfielder David Peralta and catcher Mike Zunino. Only Zunino seems a possibility to return.

They also need to reinstate most of the seven remaining 60-day players. Shane Baz, JP Feyereisen, Andrew Kittredge and Brandon Lowe are obvious, and likely Thompson, leaving Anderson and oft-injured Brendan McKay up for discussion or other resolution. To further reduce the roster (at 38 without Kluber and Peralta), reliever Jimmy Yacabonis, outfielder Roman Quinn and infielders Bligh Madris and Miles Mastrobuoni seem candidates to go.

Further decisions and moves — such as the expected departure of first baseman Ji-Man Choi — will come by the Nov. 15 addition of prospects to the roster and the Nov. 18 tender deadline.

“Injuries took a toll on our club last year. Getting some players back and healthy, I think, will help us going into next year,” Neander said. “We’ve got to make sure that we provide ample opportunity to our young, ascending players, but not too much.

“In any offseason, we’re apt to make some changes. But I think our focus is on trying to get this team back to win totals that are more in line with where they’ve been the last few years prior to 2022. And thinking about what could best position this club for a deeper postseason run while maintaining our commitment to try to make our clubs as competitive as possible in as many years as possible.”

Key dates

This week: Baseball Writers’ Association of America award finalists named (Monday), GM Meetings (Tuesday-Thursday), start of free agency (Thursday or Friday)

Nov. 14-17: BBWAA awards announced

Nov. 15: Prospects added to 40-man roster

Nov. 18: Deadline to tender contracts

Dec. 4-8: Winter meetings, including Rule 5 draft

Jan. 13: Arbitration salary figures exchanged

Feb. 15: First spring workout for pitchers and catchers

Rays rumblings

With Rodney Linares expected to shift from third base to bench coach, replacing now Royals manager Matt Quatraro, and Triple-A manager Brady Williams joining the big-league staff, the Rays still will have at least some minor-league staff shuffling to do. … Catcher Francisco Mejia has LASIK eye surgery last week, which he expects to help at and behind the plate. … Quatraro said after his Kansas City media session he had been thinking a lot about longtime Rays staffers who helped him along the way, such as Bill Evers, Tom Foley, Paul Harker, Jim Hoff, Mitch Lukevics and Ron Porterfield, among others. … Quatraro now will be AL Central rivals with former Rays coaching colleague Charlie Montoyo, who was hired as the White Sox bench coach. … There was a lot of sports knowledge at the table when former Rays (and Royals) manager Hal McRae, 77, a long time Bradenton-area resident, met up recently with ESPN college hoops expert Dick Vitale over breakfast. … Linares, who is managing the high-powered Dominican Republic team in the spring World Baseball Classic, will get a first look this week at the initial 30-player roster. Franco and previous Rays shortstop Willy Adames are likely to be included. Blake Butera, who led Low-A Charleston to league championships in his first two seasons managing, will be the bench coach for Team Italy, assisting manager Mike Piazza. His reaction when the Hall of Famer called to offer the job? “He left me a voicemail — I had to make sure everyone got to hear that,” said Butera, who heads this week to Italy for workouts and meetings with Piazza.Mastrobuoni is a candidate for the roster, with first-round play in Taiwan. … Congrats to Rays travel/logistics director Chris Westmoreland on his Friday wedding. ... The cutoff for Super 2 arbitration eligibility being set at 2 years and 128 days cost the Rays about $4.5 million, as Arozarena (2-129) and reliever Jason Adam (2-132) both qualified and figure to get about $4 million and $2 million, respectively, rather than roughly $750,000 each.

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